Without budget, state to send layoff notices soon

OLYMPIA — Thousands of state employees will start receiving notice as early as Monday that they may be temporarily laid off on July 1 unless lawmakers move forward with a budget agreement soon.

Mary Alice Heuschel, Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff, said Thursday if the Legislature fails to pass a budget by June 30, when the current budget cycle ends, 34 state agencies or offices will be completely shut down, 24 will face partial shutdowns and 25 will remain open. The Office of Financial Management released a summary of the agency-by-agency shutdown, including closure of all state parks and the stop of lottery ticket sales. The state is required under existing state employee contracts to give advance notice to employees that could be affected by temporary layoffs.

“This absolutely is the last thing that the governor, or any of us, would want to happen,” Heuschel said. She said that the governor “is doing everything in his power to help legislators reach an agreement.”

Legislative leaders indicated a deal was near, and there was significant activity in the Senate wings Thursday morning, as key lawmakers were seen gathering inside Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom’s office.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, after leaving a meeting with Senate budget negotiators, said that there was a “good exchange” of budget offers Thursday morning.

“We’re working to get this done as fast as possible,” he said.

Republican Sen. Andy Hill said while the two sides have a couple sticking points, he said negotiators were not far apart and were continuing to come closer together.

“I don’t feel like we’re at a stalemate,” Hill said.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said lawmakers could have an agreement in principle within the next day, with the expectation of completing work Sunday. He vowed that there would not be a government shutdown.

Under the government shutdown contingency plan released Thursday, all of the state’s universities and community colleges would remain open, but agencies like the Department of Early Learning, Liquor Control Board, state parks and state Lottery would face a complete shutdown, while others like the Department of Social &Health Services, Department of Health and Department of Corrections would face a partial shutdown. Among those offices that would remain open are the Traffic Safety Commission and the Office of the Treasurer.

Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said that under a partial shutdown, new offenders would remain in county jails instead of being moved to men and women’s prison reception centers, programs like work crews and treatment programs would stop, and community supervision for all offenders would cease, except for out-of-state offenders supervised under an interstate compact.

Lewis said 3,000 of the agency’s 8,000 employees are expected to receive layoff notices next week.

Last week, state agencies were told to identify areas of their office that should be exempt from a government shutdown and explain why. They had to submit their information by Monday evening, and officials from the governor’s office and financial office worked to determine what elements of state government were required by the state Constitution or federal law to remain open and which would need to close. Washington state has never had a government shutdown, but the Legislature has taken its budget talks to the brink before. In 2001, lawmakers finished the budget on June 20; in 1991 then-Gov. Booth Gardner signed a budget just moments before midnight on June 30.

The Democratic-controlled House and the Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, have been locked in budget negotiations for several weeks. They are currently in a second overtime legislative session after adjourning both a regular 105-day legislative session and a 30-day special session without reaching a budget deal.

Earlier this week, substantial improvements in Washington’s financial outlook provided state lawmakers with some good news and a possible pathway to resolve their budget differences, and negotiators expressed optimism they would avoid any government shutdown.

In total, the new coming 2013-15 budget will raise $32.66 billion — up about $2 billion from the current budget.

However, lawmakers are still looking to balance a roughly $1 billion shortfall due to inflation and costs of state services and obligations anticipated in the next biennium. They’re also hoping to add a similar amount of money to the state’s education system in response to a state Supreme Court ruling.

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Online:

State contingency plan for government shutdown: http://www.ofm.wa.gov/contingency/agency—planning.pdf

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Associated Press

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